By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning and Development
Can you have too much of a good thing? When it comes to qualities of leadership presence, the surprising answer is yes! Developing leadership muscles is like physical conditioning. If your routine is always to run, you end up with strong legs and a healthy heart, but you don’t develop overall body strength. It works to a point, but someday you’re going to need it.
The same is true in leadership. Relying on just a few qualities makes them “over-strengths.” You come to over-use them, even when the situation calls for another approach.
Let’s take the case of Neil, a well-liked leader whose brand is as a caring leader. He’s highly attuned to others’ needs and concerned about their welfare. His people love working for him. On our ExPI assessment, they made comments like “he has a great ability to listen and think of the greater good for any issue,” and “he looks for ways to help his people advance.”
But as we dug deeper into his assessment data, we learned Neil wasn’t as strong in a crisis. He wouldn’t raise issues because he didn’t want his staff to be upset. He said, “I hate to disappoint people!” When bad news needed to be discussed, he didn’t put issues on the table quickly enough. As a result, he actually was disappointing them by failing to step up and speak his mind during moments of truth!
What happened was that Neil was high in qualities of executive presence we refer to as Resonance and Concern. He relied on each of these so much that it was at the expense of other qualities of presence that would make him more effective.
We’ve learned about over-strengths by looking at the data from hundreds of assessments. The Bates ExPI is the first-ever scientific assessment of executive presence, and that means we have real data we can evaluate to appreciate how others view you.
In all there are 15 qualities, all of them are important to being an effective leader. We define executive presence as the ability to engage, inspire, align and move people to act.
I’ve been given feedback to about 200 leaders. They almost always focus on the part of the glass that’s not full—the handful of facets that received the lowest ratings.
That’s only human, of course, but it’s equally important to understand your highest-rated qualities of executive presence. Not only do you need to know how to leverage those strengths. You also need to know when you’re relying too much on them.
Neil’s strengths in Concern and Resonance could work against him. Getting this feedback was an a-ha moment for him. We helped him see that he could develop Composure by leveraging his natural strength in Concern and Resonance. If anyone could share bad news and have others come away feeling relatively good, it was him! This encouraged him to confront issues earlier and take care of them quickly.
There’s no question that people are always going to value and appreciate what makes you a great leader. It’s also important to know when you’re leaning too heavily on those “brand” qualities of yours. Flex those muscles you have, but change your routine, and work toward developing new aspects of your presence. As you face new situations, you’ll have a greater range of qualities to call on that will help you become all the leader you can be.